COMPILED FROM STAFF REPORTS
This week – just days after the Newtown shooting – the number of licensed concealed weapons holders in Florida topped 1 million, according to state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
“Clearly it is a popular law and has been taken advantage of by a large number of Floridians who have acted responsibly,” Putnam said.
Florida has been licensing concealed weapons since 1987, when state officials took over authority from counties that had a patchwork of requirements regarding who could carry and what was needed to qualify for a license. Since then, more than 2 million licenses have been issued.
License holders are predominantly male and most are over 31 years old, with more than 219,000 at least 65 years old. While still a relative minority, representing about 20 percent of all license holders, more than 200,000 women also have licenses to carry.
Overall gun sales are also up. Last week, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, said the agency processed more criminal background checks for firearms on the Black Friday shopping day than any single day in the agency’s history.
Background checks are required for all gun purchases. Persons seeking concealed weapons licenses must undergo further screening and submit fingerprints.
A concealed weapons permit now takes a little over a month to obtain, down from more than 15 weeks only a few years ago. About 10 percent of licenses issued in Florida are for out-of-state residents.
The tragic mass killing last week has produced a stream of ideas on gun control and school safety at the national level – but reaction in Florida has been muted, at least in the form of concrete legislation.
Gov. Rick Scott has called for school districts to review their safety procedures after the shooting.
But no gun legislation has been introduced in either the Florida House or the Senate since the tragedy.
Legislative Republicans, who have traditionally worked to expand gun rights, have largely steered clear of the issue. A spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, responded vaguely to questions about whether the Senate was planning a legislative response.
Democrats have also seemed hesitant, mindful that the GOP-dominated Legislature is unlikely to pass sweeping new laws to control firearms.
“You have to look at the recent history of the Legislature,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat who heads up his caucus’ policy efforts. “The Legislature is very, very pro-gun lobby.”
Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said his office was researching potential changes, including whether to transfer responsibility for background checks for concealed weapons permits from the Department of Agriculture to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Ideas for making it easier to check an applicant’s mental health history are also under consideration, Smith said.
Some Democrats say the larger issues, such as whether to limit access to high-capacity ammunition clips that can hold dozens of rounds, could be better handled on the federal level, instead of taking a state-to-state approach that could make rules harder to enforce.
“You don’t want a mish-mash of gun laws … by which all you have to do is (buy) a tank of gas and you have a different law apply,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.
Pafford said the state should at least take a look at the resources it devotes to mental health, where Florida ranks as one of the lowest-spending states in the nation.
“If it’s easier to actually fund mental health in this state, let’s do that,” he said.
Brandon Larrabee and Michael Peltier of the News Service Of Florida contributed to this report.